THE FAILURE of condemned Bali Nine drug traffickers Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran to receive clemency from new Indonesian President Joko Widodo may outrage some, particularly in Australia; but “rehabilitated” as their supporters might claim, the risks of recidivism and the countless lives wrecked or terminated by the evil they peddled cannot be ameliorated. The capital penalty set down under Indonesian law should stand.
There is a certain irony that 50 years after the death of former British Prime Minister Winston Churchill — who, as Home Secretary in the early 1900s and motivated by a desire to accord humane treatment to prisoners, is credited with initiating a prison reform process that has ultimately seen many Western countries eschew the death penalty — a debate is raging over the plight of two Australians condemned to death in Indonesia and whether, or how, their lives can or indeed should be spared by Indonesian authorities.
Readers know that I am in favour of the death penalty, for certain crimes and particularly in circumstances where recidivism is a factor (the case of Melbourne woman Jill Meagher, who was raped and murdered by an evil creature with a long history of sexual violence against women, is a case in point). But in many respects, one’s support or otherwise for capital punishment in this case is a moot point.
I don’t intend to rehash the whole story of the Bali Nine and its highly evolved plot to smuggle some 8kg of heroin from Bali to Australia in 2005; I think most Australians will be familiar enough with the broad history of the case by virtue of its prominent coverage in mainstream media, although a quick refresher — courtesy of Wikipedia — can be found here.
Rather, I want to talk about the campaign to “save” the lives of Bali Nine ringleaders Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran from the perspective that it is an indecent misuse of Australian government resources; is in itself an outrage of sorts, reflecting as it does the increasing propensity in this country to mitigate and overlook heinous acts of criminal misconduct; and walks the dangerously illegitimate path or trying to tell other countries how to operate their legal systems when our own, arguably, fails to uphold the values and expectations of the community it purports to serve.
It is well and good that those who are opposed to the use of the death penalty (which includes, incidentally, the Australian government and various entities on all side of politics) take whatever steps they are able to in petitioning Indonesia to commute the capital punishments awaiting Chan and Sukumaran to life prison sentences, and those so inclined are as free to do so as others who believe the sentences handed out should stand.
But in this vein, Prime Minister Tony Abbott was right to note that in doing so Australia would in no way jeopardise its broader relationship with Indonesia, and nor should it.
This matter has been on foot now for a decade, and it would seem that with the rejection of pleas for clemency by Indonesian President Joko Widoko the avenues to overturn the death sentences of Chan and Sukumaran have now been exhausted: in the absence of presidential intervention, no higher jurisdiction exists in Indonesia for those associated with the condemned to appeal, and I cannot accept that wasting Australian government resources on any further attempts to influence their fates is anything other than a pointless enterprise.
It is true — as some advocates of the condemned pair have noted — that a discretionary power exists under Indonesian law, where convicted criminals can be shown to have been rehabilitated, for capital sentences to be commuted to imprisonment.
But the provision in question is precisely that — discretionary — and in any case, represents an artifice that is not within the remit of Australia, its government or its judiciary, or the families and friends of the condemned to exercise.
Nonetheless (and I say this in the broadest sense, and not necessarily in relation to Chan and Sukumaran) there have been countless “rehabilitated” criminals over the years who, once liberated, have gone on to reoffend.
During the week I had a discussion with an associate of mine that intersected with the issues of judicial leniency, rehabilitation and recidivism; as I said at that time, and of Australia at least, it increasingly seems that a good act and a convincing fairy story are all that is required to get bail and/or parole in the shadow of some of the most despicable offences imaginable; Meagher, again, is merely one recent high-profile example of this among too many: to my mind her killer should never have been on the streets in the first place.
Part of the problem is a correlating tendency to allow other people and/or other factors to be identified and held responsible as the “real” culprit for the criminal behaviour in the first place. How many evil specimens have arrived in Court, armed with testimony from psychologists, social workers and other “experts,” detailing colourful but horrific stories that blame poor parenting, school bullying, meagre economic circumstances and God alone knows what else as their villains?
Hoddle Street Massacre gunman Julian Knight (himself an individual I think ought to have been executed for the brutal slaughter he took upon himself to mete out in 1987) is, unbelievably, the latest vicious thug to attract the gaze of the perpetrators of this kind of mentality, with an article appearing in Melbourne’s Herald Sun just today oxygenating a story that, distilled to its root, essentially blames the Australian Army for what he did.
It seems the judicial culture in Australia is one that diminishes the responsibility offenders must take for their actions, with jail officially ascribed the status of a last resort and virtually endless avenues through which penalties can be reduced, bargained away, and terms of imprisonment shortened; it is no real surprise that penalties and sentences generate great outrage in the wider Australian community, inadequate as they are often perceived and as regular as re-offending — despite, no doubt, the “incontrovertible” nature of rehabilitation that is used to either release offenders without imprisonment or to shorten the tenures of their incarceration — has become.
The criminal justice system in Australia, arguably, doesn’t even satisfy they expectations of the community it purports to serve, safeguard and represent: and I say that with no reference to whether the death penalty is ever reintroduced in this country or not.
But when Australian citizens who fall foul of the law in other countries are given punishments that differ from what would apply in Australia — often more harshly, up to and including capital penalties — they and their contemporaries have no right or justification to do any more than has already been done, without success, for the likes of Chan and Sukumaran.
The risks for Australians who commit certain crimes on foreign soil are well known, and have been for decades; specifically, the dangers of trafficking illicit drugs in south-east Asia have been at the forefront of public awareness since Kevin Barlow and Brian Chambers were executed for trafficking heroin in Malaysia in 1986. Many countries in the region maintain a zero-tolerance approach to drug trafficking that incorporates regimes of capital punishment. The instances of Westerners — including Australians — falling foul of these, historically, is too numerous to recount.
Members of the Bali Nine can hardly plead ignorance to the potential consequences of their actions.
And in full view of the present outpouring of compassion and advocacy and defence that Chan and Sukumaran enjoy is a total lack of consideration for the countless lives wrecked or snuffed out by the insidious contraband in which they sought to trade, and the exponential additional misery, suffering, injury and expense borne by the families, friends and other associates of heroin addicts: nobody seems to be talking about that. And in my view, it’s a consideration that carries far more weight than the fate of two drug pedlars facing death in an Asian country because they believed themselves above the law.
Have Chan and Sukumaran been “rehabilitated?” Perhaps. But plenty of Academy award-winning performances have been given in the pursuit of release from prison or other judicial favours all over the world, and the hardline legal codes in Asian countries are contrived, in part, to safeguard against them.
Were Indonesian officials tipped off by Australian authorities prior to their departure, as reports since their arrest have stated, condemning them to almost certain death by so doing? Perhaps. But if the pair were innocent tourists rather than drug traffickers, there would be no international law enforcement effort under way to apprehend them in the first place.
Much has been made of the relative youth of the duo at the time of their arrest — at 21 and 23 — and apologies offered for two young miscreants who, as the story goes, are now being punished in a fashion disproportionate to the crime they have committed.
Yet the Indonesian legal system does not care for such niceties — and nor should it — and I would add that anyone of that age should know that trafficking nearly 20lb of heroin is the wrong thing to do (and amid all the do-gooder energy expended on their behalf, the idea the pair is mentally defective in any way has never been raised).
And to those who argue that executing them would constitute the waste of two “rehabilitated” lives, I would observe that such a price pales into insignificance when weighed against the human carnage, destruction and utter misery the duo sought to foster, for profit, by the obscenity of their actions.
Chan and Sukumaran were also the ringleaders of the smuggling plot, and cannot claim to be inadvertent bystanders: a point that greatly increases their culpability.
Finally, to those who have sarcastically asked me whether I would expect the Australian government to come to my aid if I got into “trouble” whilst overseas, I simply say that I am totally disinclined to go peddling narcotics in Asia: the Australian government does sterling work on behalf of Australians abroad who find themselves in difficulty through no fault of their own. It should not be forced to make cap-in-hand representations to foreign powers on behalf of drug traffickers and other noxious varieties of insidious criminal filth.
It is a final indictment on the likes of Chan and Sukumaran that by their deeds they have obliged our government to lecture to Indonesia on their behalf when its resources could be better served building relationships with that country around trade, security co-operation, and so forth.
I’m not heartless, but in view of all of the factors that now confront Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran, I don’t believe they are entitled to be shown sympathy nor leniency.
Winston Churchill was a good man, but I don’t think his praiseworthy reforms in the treatment of prisoners were ever intended to be abused in they way they increasingly have been, whether as a pretext to smack thugs on the wrist and let them go, to the potential detriment of the wider community, or — as in this case — as the basis for one country to poke its nose into the affairs and practices of another.
Whether you agree with or oppose the death penalty, the Commonwealth has made ample representations on behalf of Chan and Sukumaran. Those endeavours have now failed. It is time for the Abbott government to move on to other issues more deserving of the expenditure of taxpayer resources.
Enough is enough.